They are a somewhat unlikely couple. Darragh MacAnthony, owner and chairman of Peterborough United, is the young, fast-talking Dubliner who made a fortune in property and time-share and now commutes to the East Midlands from Florida, occasionally via Asia. Darren Ferguson is the less excitable Scot forever burdened by being the son of the country's most successful practitioner of the profession in which he is attempting to make his own way. Fortunately for The Posh, who have a lucrative televised FA Cup tie at home to Martin O'Neill's Sunderland this afternoon, they share an identical vision of football, both on and off the pitch.
Not that the relationship has always run smoothly. It began in 2007 when MacAnthony, a self-confessed Liverpool fan who decided at the age of 29 to buy a football club, gave Ferguson at 34 his first chance in management. After successive promotions, propelling Peterborough to a level they had only briefly experienced since joining the Football League in 1960, impatience and frustration led to a falling-out and, with relegation from the Championship on the cards, Ferguson left, soon to try his luck at Preston.
But within little more than a year they were back in harness. "The best thing that could have happened to Darren was Preston, and to me the best thing was going through four managers," MacAnthony says. Best in the sense that they learnt quickly what to value and emerged stronger from a taste of failure. "We made mistakes and had the crap kicked out of us that [relegation] season. I didn't handle it well and he didn't handle it well. At Preston, he grew up." Now he has promised Ferguson he will be a Premier League manager like his dad: "It might be with us or it might not."
From the start, the pair had agreed that the future for a club like Peterborough lay in developing their own players and in buying only young ones with sell-on value. "Our mantra is 'ambition, not greed'," MacAnthony says. "Work hard at this club and you'll get your pay day." An example is Craig Mackail-Smith, who was prepared to stay with the club after relegation and continued scoring goals – 35 in Posh's phenomenal total of 131 in all competitions last season – before being allowed to move to Brighton.
"We'll have a 16-year-old [Jaanai Gordon-Hutton] on the bench against Sunderland," MacAnthony said. "I've had top clubs ringing me again today saying, 'let us know when you're going to do something', and I've told them we're not doing anything. We've had agents trying to pay other youth team players for his phone number. But our young players who are being tapped up don't want to go anywhere else."
Wages are modest, which he believes has to be the way forward for a club whose average attendance last season, despite all the entertainment they provided, was under 6,500. "When I see West Ham signing a 30-year-old at 50 grand a week on a four-year contract, I feel great about what we're doing. There are clubs in the Championship who are now on a slippery slope. Salary capping is coming in and you've got to get prepared for it. Peterborough United will never pay people £25,000 a week, even if the money was there."
He is equally adamant about how these young players should be brought up and the type of football they should play: "We don't want to play horrible direct football. I've seen some of it from other teams recently and I hate watching football like that."
Ferguson agrees with his chairman on that, which, you suspect, is just as well. The manager says that, if anything, they are passing more this season than last, which is backed up by Prozone statistics showing that they play the lowest number of long balls in the Championship.
The average age of his side is 22, Mackail-Smith having effectively been replaced by two youngsters from Vauxhall Motors and Macclesfield. Ryan Bennett, the central defender, has followed goalkeeper Joe Lewis in being capped by England Under-21. Ferguson said: "You're always going to miss Craig with the goals he scored but we've changed the formation, we are playing a slightly different way which probably suits the rest of the team. We play more football, I've added more midfield players, and the way we play suits the squad better. I've tried to get young, hungry players who'll improve with us and fight for each other, and not all managers can say that. That's half the battle."
What hasn't changed, Ferguson insists, is "the philosophy that comes from the manager of always trying to entertain". Last season, before winning the League One play-off final 3-0 against Huddersfield, they scored 20 goals more than any other team in the division and let in more than anyone except relegated Bristol Rovers.
This season, despite a recent run of low-scoring games, only Southampton have hit the net more often and only Ipswich and Doncaster have conceded more. ITV are unlikely to be screening a dull game.
Peterborough United v Sunderland is on ITV1 today, kick-off 3.30pmReuse content